From Italian director Matteo Garrone, the latest retelling of the fairy tale Pinocchio returns to the roots of the original story, creating a fantasy world in the Italian countryside. When an old woodcarver named Geppetto (Roberto Benigni) creates a puppet out of wood, something magical allows Pinocchio (Federico Ielapi) to talk and walk, leading him to one misadventure after another on his way to becoming a real boy.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Garrone talked about why he felt he could bring something new to audiences with his version of Pinocchio, doing a storyboard for the character when he was just six years old, what originally made him become a storyteller, the biggest challenges of this production, what made Benigni perfect to play Geppetto, and how he’s always looking to create new challenges for himself.
COLLIDER: When something like this comes your way, do you get excited about retelling Pinocchio, or do you hesitate about doing another telling of a story that’s been told so many times?
MATTEO GARRONE: It’s true that it’s had many adaptation things. At the same time, when I read the book again, five or six years ago, I discovered that there were many, many things that I didn’t know that surprised me. So, I thought that we could make a new version of Pinocchio that was really faithful to the original book, and that original masterpiece of [Carlo] Collodi. That could be something new for the audience like it was for me reading the book.
At the same time, now we are lucky that we can make incredible things with special effects, so it could be the best Pinocchio live-action, where Pinocchio could be a puppet with special effects. Pinocchio has been a part of my culture and a part of my life. I made my first storyboard of Pinocchio when I was six years old. I wanted to tell the story in a way that for sure would be different from other directors at other times. We worked a lot on research, and on paintings and illustrations, and we tried to make a movie that was really close to the original story of Pinocchio.
When made you decide to keep that storyboard you did of Pinocchio for all of these years? How did you end up hanging onto that for all of this time?
GARRONE: Because when you are a kid, you are pure. I hung it in front of my desk because it’s one of the first things I’d done. Also, it was one of the first times that I was starting to develop a story with image. It’s something that’s a model for me. When you are young, you are naive, and then when you grew up, sometimes you lose that simplicity. So, it’s always in front of me, for that reason.
What was it that originally made you want to be a storyteller? How did you realize that it was a career that you wanted to pursue?
GARRONE: When I was a kid, I loved making drawings, so I wanted to be a part of the artistic world. And then, I grew up and became a painter. Before I became a painter, I was also a tennis player and I wanted to become a professional tennis player. I had those two passions – drawing and painting, and tennis. Then, when I was 19 or 20 years old, I discovered that I couldn’t be a champion of tennis like I wanted, so I decided to dedicate my life to painting and I became a painter. When I was 26, by chance, I made my first short movie. My background is as a painter, so I grew up looking at paintings in museums. I don’t paint anymore. It’s been more than 20 years since I painted, but I don’t miss it. I don’t need it because I’m making movies.
It’s not just the wooden Pinocchio that’s a different kind of character, but you have various creatures in this film. What were the biggest challenges of this production?
GARRONE: There were many big challenges on this project. First of all, it was challenging to show a Pinocchio that could surprise the audience and be unaffected. The second big challenge was to reach the audience of the kids. We know that kids now see lots of big movies with special effects, so it’s not easy to catch the attention of kids with a movie like this. We were always thinking about the kids in the audience. I knew that adults could love the movie, but the bigger challenge was to reach the kids and to make a movie that could be for both kids and families. We had lots of prosthetics, especially for Pinocchio. Because the main actor (Ielapi) was a kid of nine years old who had to sit for four hours of make-up, every day for three months, it was an incredible effort from him. He was really brave and strong, and also a very good actor. He played a Pinocchio that was completely the opposite of him in life. He was really incredible on this project.
What was it like for you to work and collaborate with Roberto Benigni on this and to have him play Geppetto when he had also previously played Pinocchio?
GARRONE: First of all, I’ve been a friend of Roberto’s for a long time, but we decided to work together on this project by coincidence. It was something that happened one night, when we were having dinner, by coincidence. I was already working on Pinocchio, and during dinner, his wife said to me, “Roberto could be an incredible Geppetto,” and I said, “Yes, I know.” I knew that he had already made a version of Pinocchio, so I didn’t want to ask him because I thought he wouldn’t be interested in doing another Pinocchio project. But when she said he could play Geppetto, I asked him.
Roberto is Geppetto. Roberto comes from Tuscany. Roberto comes from a family that was very poor and he grew up in poverty. The story of Pinocchio talks about poverty and it talks about Tuscany. It’s set in Tuscany in a period when there was a lot of poverty. Roberto is also one of the best actors in the world, that can play dramatic and comic roles. Geppetto is a character that sometimes is comic and sometimes is dramatic. He has been very generous to work with me on this project and we had such a great time together. We loved it. I loved it, and I know that he loved working with me. I’m very grateful to him.
Do you know what the next film is that you’re going to be doing? Are you the kind of filmmaker who’s always working on something?
GARRONE: I always like to have new challenges. I like to get myself into trouble when I make a movie. I like to do something new. At the moment, I don’t know which will be my next project, but I’m looking for a new idea and a new challenge. In this difficult moment, I’m reading and looking for a new idea, but it’s not easy to find a new idea. I want to find an idea that really excites me, for my next movie, but I’m not in a hurry.
Pinocchio is now playing in theaters.
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